Father Dan Quinn.
Father Dan Quinn.

Father Dan Quinn, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle in Hancock, embarked on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, a walk of 500 miles from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in the southwest of France to the tomb of St. James (“Santiago”) at Santiago de Compostela in north­western Spain. He started his journey on Aug. 29 and arrived on Oct. 2. Here is the third in a series of his weekly remembrances.

Day 15

 As I leave Burgos, I cross the 150-km mark (93 miles) and enter in to the meseta, a large, flat region of Spain filled with grain fields and without much shade. I’ll be walking through this for a week. 

A few months ago, Adam Sandler was hosting Saturday Night Live, and performed in a sketch in which he was the head of a European tour company. It was a very funny sketch because it was true. In it, he clarifies what his company can and can’t do: “If you’re sad now, you might still be sad there. There’s a lot a vacation can do, like help you unwind. But it cannot fix deeper issues like your general baseline mood. We can take you on a hike; we cannot turn you into someone who likes hiking. We can provide you with a wine tasting tour; we cannot change why you drink, or the person you become when you do.”

This is true here. Although the environment has changed, the people walking it have not. At least, the changes so far have been little. We’ll continue to have little changes, which will hopefully add up to bigger changes, which will change us while we still remain ourselves.  But there’s no over­night-miracle-I’m-sud­denly-a-better-person quick fix. This pro­cess of sanctification or growing in holiness (as the Church puts it) is the vocation of us all, but instead of changing us from one thing into something else, we are becoming who we were always meant to be, who God has planned for us to be. (Check out the Catechism numbers 1427-1428, & 2012-2029.)

And to that end, I have realized something this week. We’re walking through a lot of little villages, and frequently to the right and to the left, to the North and to the South, we can see a lot of other villages that we’re not passing through. Some of these are even sister-cities of the places on the way.For example, I stayed one night in a village called Cirueña, and just to the north of it was its sister-village, Ciriñuela. Cirueña was on the way, was part of my way. Ciriñuela was not. It looked like a nice little place; I could see the church steeple and a couple of its buildings. But to go to Ciriñuela would be to go the wrong way; to go there would not advance me toward the goal. It may be on the way for others, but in that case, Cirueña would not be. 

There are many things that are a part of the life and vocation to which God has called me. There are innumerable others that are not. On my way to heaven, I must be accepting of those places that are on my way, and not be too jealous of those places that are not. Thou shalt not covet. For instance, being a musician is important and enjoyable for me, it’s part of me. It’s part of my way to heaven. But only as an amateur. The sister-city of professional musicianship is not. I cannot go there nor be distracted by it, no matter how attractive I find its streets and spires. Others get to pass through there.

I believe that any of those attractive stops that are not part of my vocation I am allowed to mourn the loss of, before I move on. As a celibate, I gave away the possibility of a wife and my own children. As a diocesan priest, I gave away the possibility of the monastic life. As a pastor, I gave away the possibility of being a foreign missionary. And yes, all I will ever be is an amateur musician.

Day 21

Walking through the dry meseta, without variation in geography or vista, without shade or clouds, was tough on my legs, my eyes and my mind. Some Christian music and Catholic podcasts helped a little bit, but generally I walked alone and in silence. But at the end of this week, when I finally saw beautiful mountain ranges in the distance again, my spirit was lightened. There was the prospect of something more like home, the Adirondacks and Catskills of New York state.